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Category Archive:   National Coming Out Day


by Wendy Roome, Alcatel-Lucent employee in the U.S.

This personal story is part of the National Coming Out Day campaign. 

 

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After many decades of denial and pretending to be a guy named “Bill,” in November 2012, I finally came out as transgender, and started living full-time as Wendy.

I’ve worked with a local volunteer community theater group since 1987, and I’ve been their Technical Director and primary lighting designer since 1993. This is the article I wrote for the theater’s newsletter to explain my transition.

Incidentally, everyone in the group – even the parents of the children in our children’s theater section – has been totally accepting of my transition.

 

Most people think that “sex” and “gender” are the same, but there is a subtle distinction. (Introductory Writing 101, Rule 6: Nail them with your first sentence!) When a baby is born, the doctor looks the kid over and answers everyone’s first question: “Is it a boy or a girl?” Yes, thanks to ultrasound, most parents already know, but it’s nice to get confirmation. That is a person’s “sex”.

On the other hand, as kids grow up, they have an innate sense of whether they’re a boy or a girl. That is a person’s “gender”.

To put it another way, “gender” is what’s between your ears. “Sex” is what’s on your birth certificate.

Most people use the terms interchangeably because for 99+% of the population, they are the same. But there is a condition called “gender dysphoria,” where “sex” and “gender” don’t match. This is also known as being “transgender” – the “T” in “GLBT”. Current medical thinking is that kids are born with this condition: the hormones that shape the fetus zigged instead of zagged.

So what happens if a kid is born with gender dysphoria? If the kid’s parents are Sonny & Cher, and if they presented the kid on national TV, the kid might have the gumption to go back on national TV and tell the world, “I’m not a girl named Chastity, I’m a boy named Chaz. The doctor got it wrong!”

But most kids don’t have that advantage. They grow up very confused. Their brains tell them one thing, but their parents and their teachers and their bodies and the world tell them just the opposite. That’s particularly true if they grew up before “GLBT” was a household word, and if they think they’re the only person in the world who has those weird thoughts.

Okay, that’s interesting, but why am I telling you this? The reason, in case you hadn’t guessed, is that I’m one of the fraction of a percent that have gender dysphoria.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Two important points before I go any further. First, this is not a joke, I’m not kidding, I’m not going pull a “Gotcha!” at the end. I’m perfectly serious.

Second, if you want to ROTFL, go right ahead. I’ll understand. I may be serious, but I don’t take myself seriously.

Ever since I was 6 or 7, I knew I wasn’t like the other boys. I wished I’d been born a girl. Of course, growing up the 1950’s, I learned very early that if I ever told anyone that, I was dead meat. So like most transgender people, I got very good at hiding it. For over half a century, the central fact of my existence was that I had to hide that secret. And for much of that time, I thought that I’d have to kill myself if anyone discovered my horrible secret.

In 1970, as I was graduating from college, I considered getting what was then called a “sex change.” I finally rejected that, for at least two reasons. One was that in the 70’s, a sex change was like going into the witness protection program without help from the US Marshals. Yes, really. You were expected to give up everything and start over from scratch. No college degree, not even a high-school diploma. The other reason was that I wasn’t interested in guys. In 1970, that disqualified me from any sex change program.

Okay, time for some definitions. “Gender identity” is whether someone identifies as male or female. I identify as female. “Sexual orientation” is whether someone prefers men or woman as sexual partners. I prefer women. The two concepts are independent. Just as some genetic women prefer women, some “transwomen” – that is, genetic males, like me, who identify as female – also prefer women. Incidentally, within the transgender community, “gay” and “straight” are ambiguous. Most transwomen who prefer men consider themselves to be straight, not gay. Why? Because they’re women who just happen to be stuck in a male body. If they were interested in women, they’d be lesbians.

And yes, that means I identify as a lesbian.

Anyway, for those reasons, as well as the social stigma and the expense and the other difficulties, in 1970 I abandoned the idea of changing my sex, and I decided to “play the hand I was dealt.” For the next 40 years, I never told another human being about my gender identity issues. I managed to come to an accommodation with my gender dysphoria, but to say that this was a barrier to my getting close to anyone rates a nomination for the understatement-of-the-year award.

Then in 2009 I had a “perfect storm” of events. Basically, something snapped inside me, and I realized that I was one tiny step away from suicide. I found a local transgender support group, and discovered that I was not alone. Yes, I knew that from the internet. But there’s a world of difference between reading anonymous posts in online forums, and actually talking to another human being face-to-face. Other gals in the group – some genetic, some transgender – taught me the basics of how to use foundation to cover my beard shadow, how to select a decent wig, how to dress appropriately, etc. I discovered, much to my surprise, that I “cleaned up” far better than I expected. I started going out “en femme”. First to private parties, in other member’s homes, and later actually out in public. I discovered, again to my surprise, that after I got over my terror, most people accepted me as a woman, or at least tolerated me.

So for a while I was living two lives. One was at work and the theater, where I was a guy named Bill. The other was with my friends in the transgender (TG) support groups, who knew me as a gal named Wendy. With them, I could relax and just “be myself” for the first time in my life. It was wonderful!

Except that I couldn’t really relax, and I couldn’t really be honest with my TG friends. I was deathly afraid that the people who knew me as “Bill” would find out about “Wendy”. So I could tell my TG friends everything about myself … except where I lived, where I worked, that I was active with a theater group, and so on. I didn’t dare invite any of them to the theater productions, least they accidentally “out” me.

So I was still hiding, no matter who I was with.

When I first joined the TG support group, several people told me I’d never get any peace until I “came out” and “went full time.” That is, admit to everyone that I’m transgender, and transition from male to female and live the rest of my life as Wendy. At first I didn’t believe them. I thought “that boat had sailed” in 1970. But slowly I came to suspect they might be right, and in May 2011 I started to see a gender therapist. After much soul-searching, in April 2012, I decided they were right, and I started to take the first steps – facial electrolysis to permanently remove my beard, and female hormones to reshape my body – and I planned to go “full time” by the end of 2012.

In November 2012, I told the theater board that I was transgender, and that I was transitioning to Wendy. After they got over their initial surprise (and I convince them this wasn’t an elaborate joke), they were amazingly accepting, particularly when I realize how many of my TG friends have been rejected by their families, their parents, their kids, their church, and even their coworkers.

So what does this mean for my friends at the theater? To start, please call me Wendy, and use she/her. Yes, you’ll probably slip and use “Bill” sometimes. I might too. Don’t worry, I won’t have a hissy fit.

Remember that I’m still the same person. As they say, “You can take the gal out of geeksville, but you can’t take geeksville out of the gal.” I’m still a computer nerd and a theater techie. Most of the time I’ll wear jeans and tops and sneakers – just like most women. But they’ll fit better and I’ll use a wider color palette. Yes, I will wear skirts & dresses occasionally – but not when I’m climbing a ladder. What kind of girl do you think I am?

As I said, I’m still the same person, and I’ll still tell bad jokes and make bad puns.

 

Wendy Roome

by Eve Jutras, Alcatel-Lucent employee in Canada

This personal story is part of the National Coming Out Day campaign. Except for the author’s, names of the persons from this story have been changed to protect their privacy.

Transitioning

One year has now passed since I started transitioning from Male to Female (MTF). A lot has happened and I still have many challenges to face in the future. Many of them are fears of rejection, violence, discrimination, loss of employment, being denied access to health care and losing my kids. Why would somebody bother transitioning? My only answer: Being True to Yourself by Actualization! Like a good friend of mine says as a mantra “It’s all about Being Authentic!”

At the start of my transition, I was so anxious to bring into being what I call “Cultural Transgressions” 1. An act that goes beyond generally accepted boundaries, by making steps on the other side of your gender, which require courage and determination 2.

Every small step I’ve made on the other side made me recognize that, up to that time, I have been “trying to fit” as a normal guy, having a normal, job, a normal life, being a perfect dad. And every part of this is because of what culture, society tells you that since you have male genitalia, you have to behave, think and look like a man 3.

Trying to be normal

At any rate, these steps of authenticity made me discover that most of my life, I’ve been hiding. Hiding what, you would say? Essentially hiding my feminine traits, whether they were Secondary Sexual Characteristics (physical), ways of thinking, behaving, desiring… I was hiding it all so that I would not:

  • be bullied by the other boys at school because I looked too feminine
  • be rejected from potential lovers because I was not masculine enough
  • be left behind by sports teams because I looked too effeminate
  • be denied employment because I was not matching the typical male stereotypes

Semi-consciously I was performing, simply following (IMHO – like most of us) the “discrete and polar genders” that our culture imposes. But guess what? The more I participated to that play, the more my personal interior became unhappy.. This feeling of Self-Estrangement, made my mind inform me directly how I really felt about conforming to society’s gender norms. Some changes were badly needed to be done.

According to recent surveys, statistics show that an astounding 41 percent of transgender people in the United States have attempted to commit suicide, compared to a 1.6% in the average population.

There are so many things a closeted transgender would do to display a perfectly normal, well balanced and oiled individual, but deep inside the individual is still feeling this complete dissatisfaction about oneself. By the same token, besides crimes and overt forms of discrimination, there are so many other forms of systemic Transphobia 4 that a gender non-conforming person is being targeted at when not hiding (or being out). In both cases the Trans population is more prone to have desires to disappear from life and society.

Passing or not passing?

Last Sunday, I was at my preferred grocery store… Why preferred? Well, nobody knows me there so all the employees as well as patrons call me Miss or Madame and I love it! As a result, a couple of months ago, I decided not to go anymore to the other grocery store (which is closer to my home) where employees are used to seeing me as the male customer who had shopping there for the last ten years.

Employees at that place are still seeing male traits in me, and avoid using any gender when they greet me.

Overcoming Fears

Let me backtrack to last Sunday at the grocery… There I am humming along in the cosmetics section (which is quite extensive at that place). While turning into the eyelash aisle, I hear “Salut monsieur!” [Hello sir!] from about 50 feet behind. Since I am always in “en femme” at that store, I don’t look back – thinking “that must be directed at somebody else”. Naturally, I pursue strolling a few more feet and I wonder; “Hey I know that voice!” I look back and see my neighbors Frank and his wife Sandra (together they make a very “typical” heterosexual couple). “Ouch! They got me!” This is the right occasion to come out, so I say hi and go towards them perfectly understanding that it is clearly unmistakable that I am dressed as female with makeup.

At that moment I brought up an event that happened at their house recently. I gave them a chance to talk over that, and then ask them: “Did you also notice a change at my place too?” There followed a very quiet 5 seconds… It was evident by look on their face that they were troubled and could not say anything. As soon as I said I was transsexual along with some background info, the wife said “This is it! It is a woman in the wrong body!” She then pursued, “You have no idea how Frank was traumatized when he saw you wearing women’s clothing outside about a month ago…” They jumped at the chance to ask questions and I happily answered them. She even said that I looked nice. Now that they know, it is very likely that they will tell the other neighbors. In that case, I don’t have to do anything… The news will propagate by itself; and from that point on, I don’t even think of what the neighbors would say when leaving my home.

The “T-girls” Boat Cruise

During the summer, I was invited by a group of three Trans friends to join them in a boat cruise on the Rideau river system in Ontario. The trip lasted for 12 days and we had to go through 96 locks (48 one way). Despite the fact that we all looked feminine it was very easy for tourists looking at the boats in the locks and also other boat cruisers to decipher our appearance and conclude that we were transgender – as the four of us were at different stages of transition. We did not receive bad reactions, and concluded that the general population is nowadays more tolerant in this region of the country.

Going out just like anyone else

My daughter asked me to accompany her to do some school shopping at the store where she works. It just happens that one of the owners has known me as a man for at least fifteen years and one of the employees is the daughter of a woman I dated six years ago. You can surely imagine how afraid I was of their judgment. I accepted my daughter’s offer so that my fears would not control me and there we went. As we walked in the store, and were welcomed by employees; I seemed to completely pass as a woman accompanying my daughter. After a few minutes I decided to go check out a few things in another aisle of the store, the other owner asked my daughter if I was her girlfriend… Once my daughter told her I was her dad, the lady could not believe I was transsexual. This would not have been possible without my increased confidence as well as medical support of hormones that are now providing desired results in my transition.

Cognitive Dissonance

Some people would probably ask, “Why don’t you just live your gender in your mind, or part time and stay the guy you’ve always been socially?”

Well, Gender Dysphoria 5 is not something that is easy to deal with. First of all, neglecting who you are and not living it in your body with the same uniqueness as the rest of the population enjoys, creates a great deal of psychological discomfort (distress).

The way in which I can explain my discomfort (or discontent) is the fact that my body is physically male but I am experiencing a female gender in my mind. It is somewhat like the ‘hard-wiring’ between my body and mind has not been done the same way most people are. This kind of experience brings to the forefront a Cognitive Dissonance where two or more cognitions are in conflict.

The need of Self-Actualization and Inter-Personal Recognition

How does someone comes to terms with psychological distress caused by Gender Dysphoria? “Self Actualization” 6 is the key! To be content with yourself is to be yourself… to be yourself is consequently being an agent of change with hopes to be recognized and respected by others for who you are, as you are with dignity.

Self Acceptance and coming to terms with how one feels and what needs to be done is an immense personal accomplishment that must occur first. Coming Out to others is a very delicate action that has to be made with a lot of thought and practice. Being Authentic with oneself and others is the final attainment of the personal and inter-personal journey into Self-Actualization.

Being entirely yourself as Trans and an integral part of community / society reflects true diversity, but requires a complete overhaul in how society tries to categorize its constituents with inclusion, dignity and respect.

Notes:

  1. Here the word Transgression comes from Latin transgressus, by combining trans– (“over-”) + gressus (“step”).
  2. This is the core theme of Paolo Coehlo’s book The Alchemist: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. Another interesting book, The Secret, explains that the law of attraction is a natural law which determines the complete order of the universe and of our personal lives through the course of action of “like attracts like”.
  3. The same applies to women with one caveat I would say; since World War 1, women have explored their gender and liberated themselves from some of the straightjackets that culture brings. Where men have this huge fear of being identified as Homosexuals, they would simply not explore at all… On the other side women are now feeling the competitive pressure to be extra-feminine and the fashion industry is completely taking advantage of it. Thanks to all LGBT people that are out and claim that they are who they are and it is not at all about a ‘lifestyle’.
  4. In a recent Study, Twelve categories of Transphobic microaggressions were identified: (a) use of transphobic and/or incorrectly gendered terminology, (b) assumption of universal transgender experience, (c) exoticization, (d) discomfort/disapproval of transgender experience, (e) endorsement of gender normative and binary culture or behaviors, (f) denial of existence of transphobia, (g) assumption of sexual pathol-ogy/abnormality, (h) physical threat or harassment, (i) denial of individual transphobia, (j) denial of bodily privacy, (k) familial, and (l) systemic and environmental. Source
  5. Gender Dysphoria refers to the persistent unhappiness that some people feel with their physical sex and/or gender role.
  6. Carl Rogers similarly wrote of “the curative force in psychotherapy – man’s tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities… to express and activate all the capacities of the organism.” Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person (1961) p. 350-1

by Eve Jutras, Alcatel-Lucent employee in Canada

… Taking the risk of becoming Visible

Last night my younger daughter brought home her graduation photo samples. She will finish high school next May. I was amazed at how beautiful she looked in the pictures and how proud I am of her. But, she could not stop finding issues with minor things on her face and how her hair was so bad… I told her “You are too critical about specific details that you latch onto. I don’t see anything like that and I am sure your friends don’t pay attention to any of that.” Well, unfortunately most teenagers do and they are often pretty fast at pointing them out. “No matter what, and I don’t know why, but these things that you see on yourself, I don’t and I just love you for who you are. And I don’t know why.” I said. She stopped saying things and went on doing her rituals (texting, chat, gaming… As I’m sure other teenagers’ parents are very familiar with!).

I am always astonished at how trivial moments like this one are often a fine reflection of my own internal struggles. Isn’t it interesting that four weeks ago she was the one telling me, “Dad, what people think will have no influence on how I see you. People are more open now and it should not stop you from being what you desire.” We were in a restaurant back then and all I could reply was “You are the therapist 1 of my soul!” We left the restaurant and she said, “If you ever decide to change something, I would like to be around.” I had received a similar reaction from her older sister a couple weeks before.

That lengthy spiral of doing small steps, letting go of shame layer by layer, started a year and a half ago at a visit to my doctor. After eight years of battling with depression, mood swings and suicidal ideation, I told him I decided to stop all Bi-Polar medications and that I had scheduled an appointment with a sexologist as there must be something related to my gender. “I have no more wishes or plans, and I hate everything in my life.” He then replied “I am sure there is at least ‘ONE’ thing that you really wish. There!!! You smiled! What is it?” He caught me thinking that the craziest thing I ‘desire’ 2 over anything else was “to be a woman.” His reply “This is it, you are a Transgender woman!” “But how come I am not attracted to men?” “There is no relationship between ‘Gender Identity’ and ‘Sexual Orientation’. No link and there is no medication to cure this. You are doing exactly the right thing by starting a therapy with a gender therapist.” It finally became very clear that there is a direct link between not addressing my ‘gender identity’ and the depression.

Since then, most doors I knocked at, have opened — some very widely… This can even be frightening at times. Of course telling friends allowed me to assess how comfortable they were (initially) with the news. However, with even the smallest transformations and affirmations that I carried out, over time, I first had to adapt to myself, so it is no wonder that I have to give time for others to adjust.

Coming out as Transgender person is a somewhat different experience than coming out as a gay, lesbian or bisexual individual. Why? ‘Gender Identity’ relates to a person’s own way (inward perception) of seeing his/her Gender, while ‘Sexual Orientation’ pertains to whom one is relationally attracted (outward) to at the emotional, romantic, and sexual levels 3.

Given that it is not noticeable that someone is Gay or Bi, it is much easier to pass (being invisible or concealable 4) in society. A Transgender person may or may not be, initially aware, of his/her own ‘Gender Identity’, just like most of us never question our own gender in life. She/he typically presents a Gender matching his/her assigned sex at birth but at the same time has a ‘concealable’ identity. At some point his/her social gender presentation (or Gender Expression) may become highly visible (one can not hide it anymore if she/he takes hormones, undergoes breast/facial surgery or changes body gender expression/clothing). People’s reaction (surprised, troubled) are not always masked when they see an individual whose body appearance/ presentation is somewhere in-between a man and a woman. This ‘disruptiveness’ of cultural norms contributes to creating a ‘Stigma’ 5 against the Trans community at large. These well known heteronormative expectations are the continual enforcement (through family, law, media, culture) and enactment (via performativity 6) of gender binaries; hence there are only two possible genders (Male or Female) and nothing in-between. This creates more pressure on transgender people to meet those stereotypical expectations. The more non-binary identities are hidden, the more the erasure of those categories will happen.

The further I was hiding the way I was inside the less genuine I felt with my peers. The fear of being discovered or outed grew to a point that I could not stand it any more. It is always a relief (and most of the times, empowering!) to come out to someone.

For those who are troubled by my transition, I offer to explain it in the simplest words I can, and to help them to understand that it is sometimes as hard for me as it is for them.

Just like Anderson Cooper from CNN said when he came out:

“… the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.”

 

I truly believe that the only way humanity will survive is to embrace diversity and remove our culturally stereotyped assumptions against marginalized minorities.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day (NCOD): If you are “not out”, and need to tell somebody, I invite you to come forward to any EQUAL! Officer. A small email sometimes makes a big difference.

 

(banner photo by Sharon Drummond on Flickr)

Notes:

  1. Interesting enough to note that the Ancient Greek definitions of the word ‘therapy’ (θεραπεία) has the following meanings: healing, taking care of, listening to, attending to, and a waiting on service. Soul also has its own Ancient Greek word ‘psyche’ (ψυχή) meaning: The human soul, mind, or spirit. When we combine the two words together we get ‘psychotherapy’ which literally means ‘taking care of the soul’.
  2. Here I used the word desire intentionally in contrast to a wish. Typically, Gender Dysphoria is accompanied with a strong and recurrent desire to live completely and permanently as the gender opposite to that which they are.
  3. For a widely accepted LGBT glossary of terms see this Human Rights Campaign page.
  4. For an excellent introduction to Passing and Social Stigma see this Wikipedia entry.
  5. See also Erving Goffman’s 1963 seminal work and still up-to-date: Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-671-62244-7.
  6. For the most well known reference on Gender Performativity see Judith Butler’s 1990 most influential work: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 1990. ISBN 0-415-92499-5

Tuesday, October 11th is National Coming Out Day (NCOD) 2011. NCOD is a day when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies are encouraged to take the next step in coming out of the closet or increasing awareness.

In observance of NCOD, EQUAL! invites you to participate in the following on-line educational events at any time:

  • Ally View of Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy
  • Coming Out Stories at Alcatel-Lucent
  • GLBT webcast classes (GLBT 101, GLBT 201, Creating a Safe Work Environment for GLBT Staff)

ALU Employees: go to Engage for additional information.

(photo courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign)